When preparing for my 50k, I drove to Murrell Park and ran some miles on the race course. There was 1 part of the course in particular that I hadn't run before, and I had heard this was the hardest part of the trail. I made a trip out there a week before and tried it out, and it was even tougher than I expected. I knew these miles would slow me down, and by 9:00 I was into this terrain.
There's a great thing about trail running that helps with these miles: walking. Unlike road runners, all trail runners walk from time to time. They know it's dangerous to navigate some terrain at a run, and when you're running 31 miles or more it's just not worth risking injuring yourself at every rough patch for a little extra momentum. Only having run 1 trail race before (a 15k exactly 1 year prior on the same course), I was learning just how the later miles differ from a road race.
Almost 2 years ago, I ran my first full marathon. I had trained for months to the point that I completed a 22 mile training run 3 weeks prior to the race. I was used to the mileage, so the looming question was how to pace myself. I could have kept to my training pace to ensure that I could finish, I could have aimed for a reasonable goal, or I could have pushed myself to try to reach my highest potential. Unfortunately, I opted for the third.
During the weeks leading up to the race, I had run the numbers over and over and decided that I should be able to finish in about 5 hours 10 minutes without pushing myself too ambitiously. But the more I looked at that number, the more I wanted to reach 5 hours flat.
I kept running the numbers again and again, played with the length of my walk breaks, walking vs. running pace, and first stretch vs. last stretch pace. I had finally found a set of numbers that would get me close. Close enough that, if I could summon the energy in the last few miles as the finish line was within reach, I could reach or break the 5 hour mark. It was perfect. Not impossible, not far from the pace I knew I could run, just enough to work.
I stuck to my plan on that race day. My first few miles were a little faster, while I had adrenaline to pull me along, and my pace steadied as I pushed toward the 10 mile and half marathon mark. It felt great until about mile 15. I started to feel as if I was running out of fuel. My legs still worked, but my heart rate was increasing and my lungs felt strained. I pushed on for 1 more mile, and I knew. I pushed too hard. If this feeling had held until mile 20 I could make it, but this was too soon. I couldn't push through this for 10 whole miles.
I walked. A lot. Probably 3 miles straight before I decided I was recovered enough to run, and by then I could only run about as often as I walked.
The Ultramarathon was different. By mile 16 I had hoped to push back to the pacing I had maintained during the first hour (since I had returned to the easier terrain), but I also knew this would be the hard part of the race. Right on schedule, my legs began to tire. I had gained a running partner by that point (who would continue to help me pace the remainder of the course), and I told her "I'm going to be hurting in 3 more miles."
She told me to stay positive, but I couldn't avoid this reality. It happened every time I passed the 16 mile mark. First, my legs started to tire. Then, walk breaks got longer. By the time I reached mile 19, my legs were screaming, and I could hardly convince myself to begin, or even hold, a jogging pace. Race day was no different.
I had reached the hardest point of the race, and it was time to dig deep.
More to come,